“Rot & Ruin”
by Jonathan Maberry
read by Brian Hutchison
Published by Recorded Books (2010)
13 hours and 12 minutes

Once again I’m amazed at the range of Young Adult fiction genres available. This time around I was just looking for another zombie book to listen to, and I had heard one of Maberry’s other books (actually a couple of them) and his writing was so creative I thought, well, it’s about zombies and it’s by Jonathan Maberry, so I can’t go wrong. Nope, I didn’t go wrong, the story was fantastic, but what surprised me was that this was released as a Young Reader’s fiction, or rather it was written, as a Young Reader’s book. Really, how cool is that, a zombie book with a bit of a coming of age story?

One of the things I like about MOST Young Adult fiction, is that they usually offer up some sort of life-lesson which the main character learns and matures as the book progresses. Throw in a Zombie Apocalypse, and boom, you know kids would love this book. At least I hope so, because, sure, while it is a coming-of-age/life-lesson book, there are some super cool zombie massacre scenes, and some cool samurai swordplay that totally rocks this story.

Props definitely have to be given to Brian Hutchison on the reading of this book, with the variety of characters providing dialogue, he did a superb job of vocally separating each character from the main characters, brothers, Benny and Tom Imura, to the various rough and tumble zombie bounty hunters, like Harry Pink-eye and the Makong brothers. He also knew exactly when to emphasize the action and slow down for the moments when something serious was being discussed, keeping the focus on the story and the creative way of telling a coming-of-age story.

The story begins about 13 years after “First Night,” the night when the dead began to rise and feed upon the living. The world has changed, the zombies still walk out side towns protective walls in what is now known as “The Rot & Ruin.” Benny Imura has turned 15 and that being the age where he must find a job in order to keep getting rations, he searches out several avenues. Most people are surprised he’s not becoming a bounty hunter like his brother. Benny doesn’t care for his brother, Tom. Benny thinks Tom is a coward because of his first memory. That memory takes place on “First Night” where Benny’s mom hands Benny to Tom and Tom runs away carrying Benny as their father kills Benny’s mom. I should point out that Benny and Tom are Half Brothers.

Benny searches for a job all over Mountainside, the fenced in community where many have settled, so he can keep his rations. He tries for the job as an erosion artist, artists that take pictures of the formerly living and turns them into zombies so bounty hunters can bring closure to the families (at least SOME bounty hunters). Benny makes the zoms too scary so that job is denied him. Seeing an ad for a bottler, Benny thinks cool, bottling soda, that should be great, but as it turns out that soda is not being bottled, instead, Cadaverine is being bottled. Cadaverine is the “essence” of the dead that keeps the zombies from attacking the hunters who go out into the rot and ruin.

All through Benny’s job searches, more and more is learned about this post zombie apocalypse world, and Benny finally thinks it would be cool to be a bounty hunter. After all he hangs out at the local store hearing tales of expeditions from the roughest of all bounty hunters, Harry Pink-eye. Benny can’t figure why everyone is always saying his brother is the best of all bounty hunters, when Harry seems to have all the greatest stories about the Rot & Ruin.

Tom takes Benny out to try to show him what a bounty hunter really does and changes Benny’s view of the world. Tom shows Benny that he kills zombies only to bring closure to grieving families, so they finally know what happened to lost loved ones. Seeing a new side of Tom, Benny’s world begins to change.

In this strange zombie world, the kids all collect zombie cards, cards that depict great moments of the world since First Night, and the heroes and bounty hunters. When the latest release of zombie cards comes out and features a rare card featuring the “Lost Girl,” Benny becomes intrigued. The story is she was left alone to fend for herself in the Rot & Ruin, and is still alive killing zombies.

Benny finds out that there is more to the story one that involves his brother and some bounty hunters that create extra-curricular activities by forcing men women and children to fight zombies in an arena. Benny and Tom’s worlds are destroyed when the card comes out because the bounty hunters don’t want the world to know about the “Lost Girl” and they kidnap Benny’s friend and head out to find the “Lost Girl,” leaving Benny and Tom on a race against time and zombies to save the innocents.

Super exciting zombie story with some great life-lessons, give this one a go. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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